Skip to main content

tv   Book TV After Words  CSPAN  January 12, 2013 10:00pm-11:00pm EST

10:00 pm
enough combinations of votes in the senate to pass the different parts clay's comprise but not all at once. he passed six separate bills using different combinations. so the lesson is really persuasion is necessary and imperative to sway the doubtful. if you don't dot numbers you won't succeed. the two men together succeeded. >> we're speaking with forking and the comprise of the union. thank you. ..
10:01 pm
>> host: we are here today to talk about your book, "that's not what they meant" reclaiming the founding fathers from america's right wing. how has america's right-wing claimed the founding fathers? >> guest: well i think the founding fathers are part of the wilderness in america and we all claim them for a lot of different political points. i think that in the current historical moment, the right-wing has done two things that i find a little bit disturbing. one is they have collected fight the founding fathers and created a sort of collective single entity, a high mind founding father and they have attributed a whole lot of things that one
10:02 pm
or two people during the founding generation believed to this collective mind. then they have used it to try to say this is what our founders believed. certain opinions are illegitimate and cannot be entertained. and have used that founding -- and i think it's very predictable that people are going to use whatever is rhetorically powerful to ground their arguments. but i think that collectivization of the minds of america's founding fathers is particularly dangerous because as i say so often in the book, presenting them as such tends to dramatically oversimplify the politics of the founding generation. and it comes to be used as a big battering ram to beat people over the head with in ways that
10:03 pm
i think our rhetorically incoherent and rhetorically on them. >> host: who won america's right-wing are you talking about? >> guest: i started with glenn beck and as a matter fact, i determined i was going to write this book about 15 minutes after i ran into glenn beck's translation of the federalist papers, the original argument that was in our supermarket and i kind of went around and i said to people, can you believe this? glenn beck has translated the federalist papers and almost everybody said, what's wrong with that? i said well, they are in english. they don't need to be translated. and people didn't understand why i was so upset about that. they really just kind of ticked me off. so that was the first book that i wrote, was glenn beck's translation of i think 33 or 34
10:04 pm
the federalist papers with a lot of commentary. and also his recent biography of george washington and his half reproduction, have commentary on thomas paine's common sense. so that was sort of how i started the project was reading those three books. i read a number of books by mark levin, sean hannity, david barton. i don't know if you're familiar with david barton, the jefferson lies, which was his most recent book. and a variety of similar works, but but those -- and then there were a number of works by politicians that i read. and this is always dangerous because politicians usually don't like their own books. but i figure they ought to at least be willing to agree with it so i read several recent books by newt gingrich on the judiciary.
10:05 pm
rick perry governor of texas has a fairly recent book called fed up. it's a states rights manifesto. so that collectively, some of the politicians on the far right and then that's conservative entertainment complex became the foundation. i probably read 30 or 40 books from that wide swath of opinion. >> host: would you expect anything more from propaganda and political leaders? in other words is this what we might expect when something as complicated as the historical event over 200 years ago is written about and talked about and people who are up for election? was this just an inevitable outgrowth of our part of the culture that talks about these issues this way? >> guest: i think to a large extent yes and if you look historically, it hasn't changed much over even the last 200 years. this kind of eerie
10:06 pm
propagandistic view of history. even while that history was being made, people were very propagandist. people were propagandist about washington and jefferson and what they meant. so yes, i do think that's part of the genre. and i think that part of the genre needs to be people like me, writing correctives and saying if this is where you are getting your history, it's wrong or it's not wrong, it's at least much more complicated than it's being made out to be. >> host: while we are talking about this point of being more complicated, let's say they have very good copy editors who went back and said instead of the founders, many of the founder said something or most of the founders or it was a common opinion at the time. with that simple change of phrasing the enough to satisfy you or is there a deeper concern? >> guest: i think i would totally eliminate the utility of what i call the founders --
10:07 pm
>> host: it's a wonderful metaphor. >> guest: when i first decided to do this, i wasn't going to write a book. i was just going to write a blog because i thought that would be enough. my first attempt to use photoshop, took a picture of george washington and a picture of benjamin franklin and a picture of john adams and stuck them all together. and that was the founders, the great collective founding fathers seen. and the rhetorical effectiveness of depends on that unanimity of opinion. if you say some founders believed x and some founders believed y and barack obama is talking about y and not x, that is just saying that somebody is entering a long historical conversation. when you say the founding fathers believed x, barack obama believes y, that becomes specific. so i think that at a very fundamental level, the kind of
10:08 pm
discourse i'm responding to can't draw that distinction between the founders believed in most founders believed, or many founders are some founders believed because of that historically incoherent unanimity of the pinion is fundamental to the way the discourse is being used. >> host: so is there any hope for propagandist as you described and have a meaningful constructive conversation about the founding fathers? >> guest: i think it is at odds with what most propagandists are trying to do. >> host: let me ask you about the founding fathers apart from what the bloggers have said about them. maybe they have been treated wrong by the people you talk about in your book, but is this a group of people worthy of special special attention even now 2012? >> guest: i do believe so. these are very remarkable people who care deeply about their country and care deeply about
10:09 pm
ideas. they were also a very flawed, very often hypocritical, very often controversial group of people but in their own ways they care deeply about the country that they were creating in what they were doing. and i think they had a lot of wisdom. i don't think war or than anybody else has ever lived. i think there have been historical periods in america and other places, a lot of very wise people that we have to mention too but i do think the founding fathers individually were people who thought a lot about what it meant to live in a representative democracy at a time in the world where very few people had really given a lot of thought to that. >> host: we sometimes not take for granted what a remarkable moment that time was. there was no stable democracy in world history before that.
10:10 pm
there were city sais it didn't last but this was a democracy that was created with with the constitution and was voted on across the country, without people being murdered for what they voted on the constitution. so what is it about them that was so special and the one where do you lose a lot in the book is compromised. tell me about their ability to compromise. >> guest: well i think you can't build a representative democracy across a very large population and very large land area without compromise. i think in our present discourse, we like to pretend that the constitution and a lot of these nation-building enterprises in the founding era work done by people getting together and agreeing. which i think is absolutely nowhere near the truth. you have people who wanted to accomplish something remarkable. >> the creation of the
10:11 pm
constitution was something absolutely remarkable for its time. the creation of a representative democracy across 13 large land areas that had different economies and different modes of production, different religious values, different histories, different outlooks on things. when they came together, i think that the 55 people who gathered in philadelphia had most of them -- though not all of them but most of them had an imperative that they were going to create something like a representative democracy or a republic out of all of these different elements, and they had to give up almost everything but that. they came with a whole lot of different ideas about what they were going to do, and nobody came away with exactly what they wanted. most people didn't come away with anything close to what they wanted except that very remarkable thing.
10:12 pm
>> host: now, these are very polarized times with congress in the 1790s polarized or more polarized than today. in your book you think the media is polarized today we haven't seen anything so how were they able to compromise than well it's hard for us to compromise now? >> guest: they didn't like it any better than we like it and they got mad about it. i have never been able to track this and maybe you know who said it, politics is compromise and everything else is -- [inaudible] i think we are looking at a lot of theater right now but i think the compromises are going to happen to match. >> host: what do we do to create the sort of environment now that we can both compromise? is it just something that happens when a nation is created and when a nation is continued? >> guest: i think there have been a lot of times in our history. i think that the constitution is a very good -- i call that in the book the
10:13 pm
engine of compromise. it propels us toward compromise and one of the ways it does it is by making it really easy to shut the whole thing down. it takes very little to bring government to writing hault. you know a couple of people in congress can do it in the president can do it in a few people on supreme court can do it. it's much easier to keep things from happening than then to make things happen. what drives compromise is the need to do something, they need to move forward. and i think that we are always going to have a lot of political theater and i love it. i am an english major with a background in theater, so i love the theatrical element of our politics. i think it's fascinating. i think it's dramatic and it's tragic. it's a wonderful bit of literature. >> host: in the end, the founding generation had the country to create, and they were willing to give up almost
10:14 pm
everything but that. we have got problems to solve and i believe that right now the national debt is probably our generation's problem to solve. and it's a big problem, and it's one where there are whole lot of different values on the line, different interest on the line. i believe we will compromise on that because we have to. because the alternative is just grinding to a hault. but, there is always -- every compromise at the constitutional convention, it every compromise of the founding generation was certainly attended by his fair share of very overdramatic theater and it's no different today. >> host: now we have talked about some of the successes and some of the historically unprecedented things of the founders did but there were also many things about the way they created the constitution that don't look so good from where we sit today. the 65 white and, aristocratic
10:15 pm
men, very narrow backgrounds. so given the flaws of how the constitutional is created, are there lessons that translate to today? >> guest: i think that they do. i think that we have to be very sensitive about that and we have to realize that this was a great leap forward. it was not a great leap to where we are now. it was a great leave forward from where most of the world was then, and allowing a much larger percentage of the population to be involved in the political process that has been involved almost anywhere else in the world up to that point. from our perspective, it might not even look like much of a leap. from our perspective, the whole lot of people were excluded and much of the last 230 years has been working out the idealism of the american revolution in a way that brings the participation of the political process far past
10:16 pm
where the founders imagined it. >> host: given how different things are today, how do we go about as writers and political figures and judges and authors, how do we go about translating the principles in the country to the world of the 21st century? they talked about free speech and we have the internet. they talked about separation of powers and we have the -- so we talked about this is an ongoing process but in how different the world is today how do we translate the historic land precedented insights of 18th century to the very different world of the 21st century? >> guest: it's not easy. that's a very difficult task and i think one of the things that i object to with so much of the propaganda that i was responding to was that it made it sound very easy. clearly what we need to do is this. we need to go back to what the founders intended, which is problematic on a whole lot of different levels.
10:17 pm
i think that we will make a lot of mistakes if retry to go back and accomplish this and read the minds of the people who wrote it. because, i don't believe that they sat down be intending to create a checklist of the things we needed to do. i think it created a political process that is still a very dynamic political process, and when i have lectured about this, i announced up front that if anybody asked me what the founding fathers would think about x, i would tell them that unless the question is should the 13 colonies be covered by the reddish, the only answer is to use the process we gave you an figure it out for yourself. >> host: so let's get more specific about ways in which you are frustrated with how these propagandists and political figures are talking about these
10:18 pm
issues. some of the issues you talk about in the book. let's first talk about religion. been division and the religious order discussed at the time of the founding and how is that been according to your account, simplified in use by the right-wing? >> guest: it depends on the u.s.. they were founding fathers who are very religious. there were founders who believed that this was going to be a christian nation and that we needed the inspiration of god in the bible in our politics. i think patrick henry is a good example of a very religious founding father, and that was one of the -- one of the positions of the founding era. there were founding fathers who were not christian. the word deists are unitarians. there were some who were deist or unitarian who believe that religion was sort of a good way to control the masses. they didn't particularly care much for church and they thought it was a nice thing, and they
10:19 pm
perhaps george washington and john adams fell in to that category. they expressed a lot of religious doubts but did not really try to slow it down in the public sphere. and then there's jefferson and madison, who went through a very lengthy debate in virginia about the religious freedom act of virginia and who really saw -- jefferson was not at deist or unitarian and would not be considered a christian. madison, i have no idea because i know what he thought about religious liberty. i have no idea what he thought personally but both of them believed that religion, that it was the best for religion and best for civil society if religion were considered something prior to the social contract and therefore not covered by the social contract. you entered into your religious beliefs with your god and your deity and use understood what
10:20 pm
you wanted it to be and the state neither helps nor hindered. and i think that view is more in line with how the constitution ended up. and i think the supreme court has been moving us towards that view but by no means in a straight line. >> host: this is a good example of some of the problems you were talking about before and finding collective intentions. your outlined what several of the different founders that. many of them seemed completely completely -- with what others said so how do we find a common ground and what they said when it comes to religion? collected oddities always have conflicting intentions. different people voted for the health care law for different reasons. different people voted for immigration law for different reasons but there's still a lot that comes out of the gift gets the majority. is a very complicated picture in an interesting when you are painting of religion in the founding fathers, but how do we go about finding what the common ground is that led them to agree on this first amendment in
10:21 pm
religion? >> guest: i think that you look at the debate surrounding it and you look at the virginia debate. you look at what people said but those really aren't -- they don't really govern interpretation. the constitution says very little about religion. what it does say in the first amendment i think we have a few well-known enormous bodies of literature on the clause and the establishment clause. but i think that there is good reason to read that part of the constitution, that part of the first amendment in light of the jeffersonian madisonian position that religion is sort of
10:22 pm
exempt -- madison says exempt from the cognizance of the state. there is a non-cognizant religion which is completely existent with the free market principle. religion circulates in the free market of ideas. government doesn't interfere with it. in it doesn't do anything to establish it. and they think we pretty much have drawn those lines reasonably successfully. though there are a lot of people who believe otherwise. as there were in the founding generation. patrick henry fahim attlee opposed the jeffersonian and madisonian position on religion. but it did trevail in virginia. i would argue that it prevailed in the first amendment and that it has led to america being a very religiously dynamic country. >> host: let's use this as a good example of the founders phenomenon. how has the right-wing authors and political figures that you talk about in your book, how is
10:23 pm
the treated with the founding fathers had to say about religion? what do they think the founder said and what is it mean for our debate today? >> guest: the keynesian david barton who wrote a book called original intent which is about a 500 page collection of citations. >> host: tell us would prove tests are for the nonliterary scholars. >> guest: that's a biblical interpretation largely. our contextualize paragraphs or sentences that proves something. they are almost always given in context so people say that thomas jefferson deist, but here is a quotation from thomas jefferson which he talks about jesus christ. thus we see that this is true in what people say is a lie. and the founders wrote an enormous amount. george washington papers at the university of virginia are now in volume 67 of the projected 90
10:24 pm
volumes and he wasn't even one of the writers. alexander hamels and m. james hamilton and thomas jefferson spent hours every day writing letters. so we have rooms full of writings from these people. if you just cherry-pick the citation here and there, you can prove that they were christians or deists are libertarians or baked potatoes. you can prove that they were just about anything, because they said so much. so a proof text citation is a quotation offered with a very little context and in biblical discussions proof texts are used to approve what god is thinking. in our discussions of the founders, once you collectivize the founders, once you create the founders and the high mind, then you can apply any sentence that any one of them ever spoke as if it were the opinion of the entire collect this.
10:25 pm
that is what a lot of people today do and they are thinking an enormous amount of money doing it. david barton's original intent is the one that i focus on the most year and a book, you have got thousands of quotations by hundreds of people listed as founding fathers about half of whom were not supporters of the constitution. you have got samuel adams and john hancock and patrick henry, george mason, people who are anti-federalist, who are then taken to be something like a collective mentality and then interpret the constitution that most of them support. >> host: what does the founders line have to say about religion? what do they use to argue in contemporary debates about the government and religion? >> guest: on the right they say the founding fathers were christian. they were all christian and they
10:26 pm
believe that they didn't want a particular denomination of protestantism to be the controlling religion of the united states but certainly they meant for a very evangelical, biblical world to culminate in our politics. they find plenty of evidence to prove that. the founders find on the left that all the founding fathers were deists and they didn't leave much in god. they were enlightened thinkers and they thought that religion has no place in our society. that is just as inaccurate. those are competing collectivization of the founding generation and they are equally inaccurate i think. >> host: and let's talk about taxes. this might be the only book published in 2012 the talks about grover norquist and james madison. when it comes to the issue of taxes and what role the government has in taxing the population and using the revenues it raises, what is the
10:27 pm
history from the 18 century and how has the right-wing use that history today? >> guest: well, americans have never liked taxes. they didn't like taxes without representation. they didn't like taxation with representation. they revolted a few times in the shea rebellion in the whiskey rebellion. there was a quite a bit of anti-tat sentiment around. that said, the constitution is virtually unlimited in the taxing power gives to government and hamilton wrote six federalist -- about the need to collect taxes. and in merrick, in a number of places it says i think very straightforwardly, it doesn't make it to the -- version these federalist essays but is politically difficult to vote to raise taxes and it's always going to be politically
10:28 pm
difficult to vote to raise taxes. if you do not ever want to do anything to add a structural difficulty by putting something in the constitution to limit the ability to raise taxes because you can't foresee the future. it is dramatically responsible to do something like take a pledge saying you will never in your life as a legislator vote to increase taxes. >> host: like grover norquist. yeskel like grover norquist. that is dramatically diametrically opposed to what hamilton wrote in the federalist papers. i think among the founding generations, jefferson was your greatest example of the low tax -- doesn't want to raise taxes crowd and he was only very tentatively supportive of the whiskey tax and the spilled spirits tax.
10:29 pm
>> host: which led to the whiskey rebellion. >> guest: jefferson was a think largely defending the protesters and jefferson said a lot of things that modern-day tax protesters could seize on. jefferson was an outlier. i think washington did not support the whiskey rebellion. he actually participated in the military effort to put it down. and hamilton believed, and on the site very much agree with hamilton that you always are going to have a big debate and you always need to have that debate. you always need to have that debate but you don't hobble yourself beforehand with additional structural difficulties as it could be very important in the future to have that source of revenue. >> host: we will take a a halfway breakdown from a comeback i want to talk some more about the specific issues in the book and then we'll talk a little bit about the politics behind it and then the reasons that led you to write the book. >> guest: okay.
10:30 pm
>> host: we will be back and a little bit. >> guest: excellent, thank you. >> host: welcome back michael austin. let's talk some more about some of the issues that you look talks about and what the founders had to say, there are different opinions on these issues and with the right-wing commentators talking about. we have talked to ready about religion and taxes. talk a little bit about foreign-policy. what did the founders that you talk about in your book have to say about america's role in the world? >> guest: i think again, this was a matter of great dispute. there was major foreign-policy issue in the washington administration and that was a war between france and england and what they were going to do about it.
10:31 pm
and even then, you had two very distinctive positions. hamilton was roughly pro-british and jefferson was roughly pro-french and this is what really led to the huge split between those two men. the national bank issue is controversial, but this was how the party the federalist and republicans alliance was whether they would favor britain nor france in that war that would eventually produce all sorts of other things. i think that the hamiltonian decision which washington accepted was that america ought to be neutral because it had no army, it had no navy. it didn't have money at the time. it had a strong interest in trade with both england and france, and just they seek machiavellian self-interest that america should remain neutral.
10:32 pm
now neutrality favor the british because there was no american support for the british that there were a lot of americans who wanted to go out and privateer for france because there were a lot of trains going through the west indies at the time. so jefferson pushed hard, and i think probably too hard. he had conversations with the french ambassador that he should have never had. he pushed hard to have america moderately pro-french, to allow americans or to allow the french to outfit american ships and let them participate in some ways in the war effort. and jefferson did this largely because he thought the vote france for their help in our revolution and because the french were fighting for democracy in europe and the british for fighting for aristocracy. let me evolve the two positions, with a realistic position of
10:33 pm
these are american interests and this is what we need to do and the position of the jeffersonians which is we need to fight for values in the world. as american foreign policy has developed, those positions have both been talked about in times. we need to look at our own interest. there has always been this element if we have got to go out and make the world safe for democracy. we have got to fight with the good guys. i think our situation is completely different now. we have an army, we have an av, we have money, we have an economy. we are in a very different situation than the founders ever were or ever could have imagined. but we still have the two inclinations. are we involved in foreign policy to protect their interest? are we involved in foreign-policy to project some ideology into the world?
10:34 pm
>> host: of course it's a very different time in the world. we are not an indispensable nation. we are a nation very much a threat 25 years after the constitution not too far from here where we are taking this interview they burn down the white house and the country very much was at risk. how do the people that you write about, contemporary authors, how do they translate or try to translate what the franken signs and a founding to contemporary debates about iraq and afghanistan? >> guest: a lot of them quote washington's farewell address and said he shouldn't be involved. there tends to be a very nativist threat going through those books and that discourse. >> host: tell us more about that. would he mean by nativist? >> guest: just to let the world fight and we need to pull back and take care of ourselves.
10:35 pm
so i think that is one point and i don't sense among those kinds of contemporary conservative writers, i don't get a sense of foreign-policy coherence the way that i do with the -- some of them are pro-intervention. >> host: we have conservative right-wing. >> guest: some of them are we need need to explore a democracy. a lot of them are much more, we need to just pull back, get out of these wars and take care of ourselves. and stop spending money on the war. >> host: there is a constitutional law and the one issues would have seen the founders quoted the most in my whole life for the past few years if states rights, what we might call federalism, the relative power the federal government. this comes up a lot on sunday morning talk shows and the supreme court decisions in the health care case. what do the founders have to say about the relative roles of the
10:36 pm
federal government? >> guest: everything we have to say about it. they were just as messed up and complicit about that is we are. the major issue in 1800 election was a major issue in the 1828 election. that was andrew jackson versus john quincy adams. this question of, are we one nation or are we a bunch of states? this is what divided the federalist and anti-federalist in supportinsupportin g the constitution. is what divided the federalist with the republicans and the founding era. it divided the whig's. the republicans in the legs of the democrats of the next-generation. we have always had some people who see the united states primarily as a group of states in contact with each other and other people who see it as a union, and the administrative districts within that union. the idea that the founders had
10:37 pm
incoherent position about state rights. all of them thought the same thing, requires you to pretend that they didn't have elections back them. that is what their elections were about. >> host: antrum parties in different elections. >> guest: different parties wanted different things. i think generally the southerners were more confederated. they saw this mrsa compact and the northerners i think are more -- side is the nation. hamilton was almost a monarchist hamilton saw this very much is a union. i think that there was with all of the founders, there was a strong belief in the union. when i read that texas is trying to secede from the union because they are mad about some political event, that just strikes me as horrifically tragic in a comic sort of way, because the founding
10:38 pm
generation -- there were lots of disunion is but they were not supporters of the constitution. >> host: what the rick perry and napolitano have to say and what is there collectivist vision about what the founding fathers had to say? >> guest: it originally meant supporter of the articles of confederation and then madison and hamilton pulled one of the great fast ones of all times by calling their nationalist of the constitution the federalist papers. so what we mean by federalism -- it's a word that signifies some relationship between constituent elements in a national government. what that relationship is not anywhere clear and is not anywhere clear in the founding generation. i think rick perry and mark levin and glenn beck and almost everybody in that general cadre believes that the founding fathers believed that states
10:39 pm
were more amenable to democracy than the federal government. the federal government whistleblower likely to bring tyranny to the states which is exactly the opposite of what madison believed. it for states that have the real potential to produce a majority are in tyranny and it's the national government that can counteract that. >> host: because of its size. >> guest: because of its size. is large enough to balance the regional authorities that could otherwise become oppressive and -- >> host: you shall be waiting by your phone for a call from glenn beck for your imitation after a discussion but certainly there is no issue that seeks more attention from this group than federalism. as you indicate, the words federalism and separation of powers are at the core of our constitution and even mention the constitution. there are concepts in the air and substantiation's, very
10:40 pm
general concept. i want to turn now to why the founding fathers, why now and why the right-wing? it's a very kind of puzzling topic for me. you mention in the book that warren harding davis speech in 1916 where he mentioned the phrase founding fathers, but republicans don't use it as a major basis of attack against the new deal or in the 1950s. john marshall harland nominated to the supreme court in 1955 and one in one of my colleagues did the studying showing that he asked about originalism and john robertson 2005. our president and our vice president and former process -- for pastors of constitutional law don't talk about what the founding fathers thought. so why have modern temporary conservatives grabbed onto this is such a basis for political
10:41 pm
orientation? why then, and why now? >> guest: i think because of its rhetorical power, is always going to be invoked for rhetorical religions. i think that a lot of people don't have a good understanding of the founding generation. i discovered this the hard way when it's writing this book. i asked my 14-year-old son if he could name to founding fathers and he told me it was benjamin franklin and chuck norris. [laughter] >> host: don't tell his history teacher. >> guest: so we have a think a high level of misunderstanding which makes it very easy to manipulate it. and everyone agrees that these were good people. not everybody, but the vast majority of americans want to be in line with the founders and don't quite know what it means to be in line with the founders. and so, they are very
10:42 pm
susceptible to somebody coming out and telling them in plain and easy to understanunderstand words with the founders meant which turned out to be exactly but the people were saying that they want the founders to mean. >> host: but why the right-wing? why do they talk about the election campaign by james madison and all these people would have wanted the health care law and financial reform but why glenn beck and not al sharpton? >> guest: that's a very good question and i don't know the answer. i think there is much in the writing of the founders to support what contemporary liberals believe and contemporary conservatives believe. i think both groups could draw equally from the founders. i think liberals have tended to downplay the importance of the founding generation largely because of its connection to slavery and its connection to white male privilege. i think that is made it harder for liberals with some of the core liberal constituencies to
10:43 pm
invoke these aristocratic white men as really what kenneth burke would call god terms. and then i think the ideology which is less desirous of payment of ultimate authority that conservative doctrine is right now. >> host: part of this as a basis in kind of the more religious nature or political argument and political constituency? >> guest: i think that most of the people who are adopting this worshipful attitude towards the founders are conflating that with their religious beliefs, and it comes out that they are these ultimate authorities, sort of god and the founders, church and state and they occupy a very similar rhetorical position in the right-wing discourse. i do want to say, i try to get
10:44 pm
some length in this book to talk about the difference between a french conservative element and a mainstream conservative conservatism, which i think is a very respectable philosophy and one that i agree with in many ways and many places. so i don't want to paint all conservatives with this brush. i think it's a subset right now of the far right that calls itself a constitutionalist movement that sees great rhetorical power in the constitution, and quite frankly some of the founders thought exactly the way that they do, and some of them didn't. >> host: one version of conservative might be burkean conservative referencing the way things were done in the past. i want to come back to the difference of french conservative and mainstream conservative but i want to talk some more about this interplay between kind of religious arguments and constitutional arguments which you have written
10:45 pm
in blogged. talk about religious and -- arguments. what similarities do you see the beyond reference of the ultimate authority between the direction of evangelical christianity and perhaps you know the source of arguments that you referenced in your book? >> guest: this takes me back to my actual timeframe. i spend most of my career writing about note and bunyan dafoe and richard -- and bunyan especially was a great one for making the religious argument in his way of doing it, they think this is very common in our culture today, if you took the bible and divided into 30 million, one paragraph proof texts and combined them in the way he felt like it, paid no attention to context whatsoever and said well here is the first corinthians in this verse over here from proverbs and here's something
10:46 pm
from leviticus and you put it all together and you can form a chain and go wherever you want to go. ..
10:47 pm
>> that is very much decays with the founders. you will see something that john adams wrote in a letter 1912 right next to 1970 -- -- 1778 as if they form a single paragraph. something john adams said 1812 with benjamin franklin
10:48 pm
and 1750 and put them together you form a text of a single argument. >>host: is there a similar attitude of the modern tv to and how have they have distorted figures from a long time ago? >> people like you and me, who will intentionally distort the plane and precious truth of the founders to make them seem less than whether talking about the ownership for any time a liberal mentions they will have a strong push back or the disagreements between them. we'd want the mythic figures
10:49 pm
to disagree with each other all the time. there is us since the academics are delegitimized. while reading a the primary text. >> that could be the bible or the constitution. there is a democratic impulse we don't need the elites telling us. we have andrew jackson for that. [laughter] your book does a wonderful job we may go through the moments now. so we cannot just look at one particular moment of how the country works. the sale liberal political activists says we agree with
10:50 pm
everything you say. we're tired of the right wing as we are a critic is that good? >> no. i would be horrified. the last thing we need is the group of liberals to be simplistic about the founding fathers. you could have a movement on the last then it is just nonsense. i would be happy if liberals read this. i would hope there is enough to offend liberals. but with the current historical moment the far right discourse is much more
10:51 pm
abusive to the founding history that is an accident. for the left has been passing as simplistic. so let's invite liberal ones. what is amazing is how interesting the men are when you read about them. it is so much more interesting and rather than trying to create a checklist of approved opinions based on the founders, look at how they struggle, a
10:52 pm
compromise, what they brought to the table in the form to the nation there is a lot of lessons to learn by looking at that. not through the ideological blinders. >>host: no matter how we try we see things through our own eyes. is it possible to be objective of the history? >>guest: more objective history is possible. but there are so many wonderful books. i was in barnes & noble last night. i passed three today and i was just looking at the great books being written know about the founding generation. people are doing phenomenally low work. a lot of people are reading
10:53 pm
them people are discovering no there's still is on the far right the desire to construct the bully pulpit. there's a lot of great information you just need a phone to access everything that any founder ever wrote. the complete works of all founders can be down loaded on tear amazon kendall, ipad, they are free. >>host: go back to what you mentioned before what is the difference of what you
10:54 pm
call the french conservatives and mainstream conservative? what is the difference between how justice scalia treats the founding fathers? >> justice goalie it is often presented as an original list. that is what he says. he is not intentional. in the 1997 book, it was a very good book. he says you can look for a generalized intent but you cannot read the minds of those who wrote the document. they did not ratify the document it is undemocratic
10:55 pm
to derive there intent is so justice clear is very conservative but he said i n an original list. i am not a net -- nut. >>host: that was the people would call original intention with public's understanding not like madison toward jefferson. >> not the only interpreted strategy but what these words meant to the people who wrote the document. but to save what did john adams writes in his journal
10:56 pm
1811? ha one of the things i have done is put up quotations by a adams and jefferson then ask people whether john adams and jefferson were when the constitution was written. they were not even in the hemisphere. they were both faraway. so if you look at the intent included in the document, that is what justice clear it is saying. you don't try to read the minds of people over the years and look at a completely different context. another example. my favorite, the supremacy clause of the statement that
10:57 pm
the constitution of the united states trumps the state law. originally madison did not want that. four times during the convention they opposed a federal beach had -- veto but that was a nonstarter. an anti-federalist from maryland oppose the supremacy clause as it stands now except as the state constitution and hope to do it as a metric hoping they would write federal law trump's the state law but not the state constitution so he could argue later state constitution would trump the federal law. but that was cleaned up and
10:58 pm
put in there that federal law trumps the state constitution. but it raises the question of original intent. is that madison who wanted a much stronger your veto? looser margin to deceive the other delegates? who is intent do you put in? nobody came to the constitutional convention saying i want a supremacy clause. if you look at what people intended everybody intended something else. >> looking at the intention of north carolina with these are very different enterprises. >> that is a way to read the
10:59 pm
constitution from my field. is of great contention what milton intended when he wrote paradise lost but not win john adams did not write the constitution. when we read a book we are hard wired to think what did the authors mean? that is not a good way to look at it so that nobody translated the intent into words the way we hope to milken did. >> you have left us with interesting thoughts and good luck with your book. >> thank you for doing the interview


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on